State prisoners lost several grounds for seeking federal habeas corpus relief during the Supreme Court's 1975 term. In each case, the Court was prepared to admit, at least for the purposes of argument, that there were constitutional infirmities in the state criminal process which resulted in the confinement of the prisoner; nonetheless, the Court held that the prisoner would not be permitted to attack his conviction collaterally in federal court. Because the prisoner in Francis v. Henderson had not complied with a state procedural rule requiring such challenges to be brought before trial, the Supreme Court held that he could not collaterally attack his conviction on the ground that Louisiana's method of selecting grand jurors was racially discriminatory.' While acknowledging the potential for prejudice when a juror sees a criminal defendant dressed in distinctive prison garb, the Court held in Estelle v. Williams that a conviction was not subject to attack unless the defendant was compelled to stand trial in such clothing and that such compulsion did not exist where the defendant was denied use of his personal clothing for trial by a jailer rather than by the judge. As disappointing as those two decisions were to advocates of defendants rights, the sense that state prisoners had "lost" a ground for collateral attack upon their convictions must have been greatest with Justice Powell's opinion in the case that the Court saved until the last day of the term, Stone v. Powell.
Federal Habeas Corpus After Stone v. Powell: A Remedy Only for the Arguably Innocent?,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol11/iss2/5